By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday that saboteurs used a gun to bring down a power cable and plunge more than half of Venezuela into darkness earlier this month.
As well as causing chaos on the streets, the December 2 blackout sparked an immediate blame game. The government accused right-wing foes of an attack, while opponents said the outage was due to incompetent management of the electric grid.
"They attacked a transmission line," Maduro said in a speech to a regional summit in Caracas, attended by several heads of state. "The sabotage has been proven. With a gun shot, they split a key line and left the country in the dark."
Since winning a vote to replace late leader Hugo Chavez, the 51-year-old former bus driver has made a plethora of accusations against his foes, ranging from economic sabotage to death plots against him and Socialist Party No. 2 Diosdado Cabello.
Critics, including opposition leader Henrique Capriles, have mocked those as lies designed to distract Venezuelans from day-to-day problems like stuttering public services.
Maduro's intelligence chief, Miguel Rodriguez, also had suggested that a gunman brought down the 765-megawatt electricity cable in the Venezuelan savannah that connects about two-thirds of the nation to the country's largest dam.
It was the second such outage there in three months.
"A good marksman can hit a three-centimeter cable from 50 meters. It's very easy," said Rodriguez, who is also interior minister and is helping lead the investigation into the power cut. "It was a clean cut."
Venezuela, an OPEC nation with the world's biggest oil reserves and a population of 29 million, has been suffering periodic electricity cuts since 2009, especially outside the capital Caracas.
Maduro blames sabotage and wasteful use of electricity by Venezuelans but critics say the power failures are symptomatic of lack of investment and mismanagement within state power company Corpoelec since Chavez's 2007 takeover of the sector.
Venezuela has a maximum generation capacity of about 28,000 megawatts and normal demand of about 18,000.
(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Bill Trott)